The Democratic field of Colorado gubernatorial hopefuls is firming up — and education promises to play an outsized role in the race.
Neither development was a surprise. Both have long been considered contenders to replace Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is leaving office due to term limits.
Former state Sen. Michael Johnston was an early Democratic entrant, announcing his bid in January. The former teacher, principal and architect of Colorado’s controversial teacher evaluation law last week touted an impressive first-quarter fundraising haul.
In a Facebook Live video announcing her candidacy, Kennedy focused heavily on education, which she described as the No. 1 issue of her campaign. The graduate of Denver’s Manual High School said she is frustrated by what she sees in public schools today.
“I want all our kids to be thinkers and creative problem-solvers, not just good test-takers,” Kennedy said, adding that she wants to pay teachers “as professionals.”
Kennedy is the author of Amendment 23, a constitutional provision that requires school funding to increase by inflation and enrollment growth every year. Lawmakers have used a legislative workaround, however, to deny schools what is coming to them under the amendment.
Kennedy also crafted the eight-year-old Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program, which funds school building replacements and repairs through a competitive grant process.
In a news release, Kennedy’s campaign also mentioned the importance of giving every child the chance to attend preschool and kindergarten, offering technical and professional courses to high-school students, and tackling college debt.
Johnston got his start in education policy after joining the Teach For America program, and became arguably the state’s best known promoter of education reform.
His leadership in overhauling the state’s teacher evaluation system in 2010 made him a popular target for teachers unions, a powerful constituency in the Democratic party. Johnston also was among those who championed 2013’s Amendment 66, a failed effort to pump $1 billion into the state’s schools.
Perlmutter’s education record is thinner than Johnston’s and Kennedy’s.
During his time as a state lawmaker, Perlmutter sponsored little education legislation, according to a review of the bills he sponsored between 1995 and 2002.
But Perlmutter has close ties to Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district, which is part of his congressional district.
Perlmutter attended Jeffco Public Schools, as did his children. His wife, Nancy, is a former Jeffco teacher. More recently, he supported the successful recall of three conservative Jefferson County school board members and championed a slate of candidates to replace them. The recall was heavily financed by the Jefferson County and state teachers unions.
Perlmutter joining the gubernatorial race caused other political dominos to fall. Democratic state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, chair of the House Education Committee, announced on Sunday that she would run for Perlmutter’s congressional seat in 2018. State Sen. Andy Kerr, a Jefferson County teacher, said he is also running for the seat.
The Democratic field for governor has come together quickly after former U.S. Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he would not run. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, chairman of a House education subcommittee, also has said he is considering joining the field.
Entrepreneur Noel Ginsburg, who heads a nonprofit organization that is set to launch a new youth apprenticeship system in Colorado this fall, has also announced his candidacy.
The Republican race for governor is still taking shape. George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District attorney, named education and transportation as his two top issues in announcing his candidacy last week.
Other possible GOP candidates include State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Kent Thiry, CEO of Denver-based DaVita HealthCare Partners. Thiry and his wife have contributed money to local charter schools, including DSST Public Schools and STRIVE Preparatory Schools.